Murder suspect Rusty Sabich conspires with an ally; his wife overhears and they discuss the dire situation (locate this clip at the 1:15:42 mark).
The camera is static and there’s hardly any movement within the frame – but the lighting of these shots once again reflect an admirable simplicity. The only item of note is the positioning of the actors.
This was a big room (50’x20′) and despite the husband\wife relationship and intimate nature of the phone exchange, they’re kept quite far apart. If on the odd chance you happen to recall this scene at the end of the movie you might interpret it as the filmmakers tipping their hand in some way. Also, note the positioning of Harrison Ford. In both the wide shot and his close up he’s pinned against the bookcase. This goes against Willis’ normal practice of composing and staging scenes in-depth, yet it’s perfectly suited to what’s happening in the narrative. Ford’s back is literally to the wall…and things are starting to close in on him.
There is a note of optimism though, at least visually speaking. Willis liked to use what he referred to as relativity in order to create structure within a series of shots. Though it could include lighting, color and movement, it would most often reveal itself through the physical size of the actors in the frame. Here, we start wide on Ford then go immediately to his close up – which is then cut against the wide shot of his wife, Bonnie Bedelia. By playing Ford in much larger size relative to Bedelia, he gains a subtle dominance in the viewer’s mind. If there’s been any hint thusfar to her treachery and duplicity, this dynamic might nip it in the bud – despite the physical distance between them in reality on the set.
The most evolved and consistent example of Willis’ use of compositional relativity can be found in his work on The Paper Chase (1973). The way he manages the power struggle between Timothy Bottoms’ law student and John Houseman’s professor is really amazing. Maybe one day I’ll break it down and analyze it here…